Rural Alaska

Company plans retrieval of unmanned barge floating down Kuskokwim River

BETHEL - A cargo transportation company plans to retrieve an unmanned barge that has been floating down the Kuskokwim River since it came loose from ice that trapped it over the winter.

Alaska Logistics LLC said the barge filled with gravel drifted more than 100 miles along the Kuskokwim toward the Bering Sea, KYUK-AM reported Wednesday.

The Seattle-based company plans to wait for the ice to melt and then retrieve the craft from the Kuskokwim or the open sea if it passes the river mouth.

The company will drain and inspect the barge before maneuvering it back up the river to its original destination, Alaska Logistics General Manager Allyn Long said.

The barge was headed to Red Devil in October before the river began to freeze, Long said.

"The ice kind of caught us off guard and it got stuck in the channel," Long said.

The company unsuccessfully attempted to free the barge with another boat fitted with an excavator, he said.

"It was just too late. There was too much ice in the river and everything else," Long said. "And so it sat there all winter and really did good for the most part."

Residents in communities along the river reported the barge came loose this month as the river ice broke up when temperatures rose.

The company anticipated the ice breakup and filled the vessel with hundreds of tons of water, hoping the barge would become beached on a riverbank.

The ice instead acted like a bumper and allowed the barge to bounce off the riverbanks, while frozen chunks in the river have prevented any retrieval missions, Long said.

“It’s too dangerous,” Long said. “There’s no sense in trying to do anything silly.”